When the Magi had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. Get up, he said, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."[9] When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old or under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.

The thing is Herod the Great was born 74/73 BCE and died in 4 BCE (aged 70), according to Wikipedia. I know that Wiki is not a credible source at all and that's exactly why I'm asking this question.

Assuming that he died 4 BCE, that means he died 4 years before Jesus was born so he couldn't have committed the massacre. I must be missing something, what is it? If Herod the great didn't commit the massacre, who did? If he did commit the massacre, when did he die?

  • 1
    Remember that Jesus was born anywhere between 7-2BCE, so there's plenty of opportunity for overlap.
    – Flimzy
    Dec 29 '14 at 13:14
  • @Flimzy oh i get it thank you :) assuming that the time of herodes death is correct, we can say that jesus was born 7 - 4 BCE, eliminating two years :)
    – Lynob
    Dec 29 '14 at 13:49
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    I touch on this in my answer here - this was my old (since deleted account) Dec 29 '14 at 14:41
  • Bethlehem in the Galilee was destroyed just before the death of Herod the Great. It might have been by Roman soldiers/mercenaries/auxiliaries - Herod was fond of using them. The Jews would have fought back if their children were threatened. Akko would have been considered Egyptian. (Bethlehem in Judea was not a functioning town at the time of Jesus' birth.) Etc etc. You are simply asking too big a question with new data becoming available almost daily. It is one of the most exiting periods of archaeology. Dec 29 '14 at 19:27
  • @gideonmarx good points :)
    – Lynob
    Dec 29 '14 at 19:32

The first question is what year Jesus was born in. The people who devised the Christian calendar reckoned that Jesus was born in 1CE, aka 1AD. (There was no year zero CE). However, there is a lot of scholarship that concludes that Jesus was born sometime between 6-4BCE.

You can consult Wikipedia on this. They also have an article on Nativity of Jesus. One of the estimates they use is to conclude from the gospel texts that Jesus was about 31 years old in the fifteenth year of the Reign of Tiberius. They then count backwards to 6-4BCE. That would place Jesus' birth before Herod's death.

Two events occur between Jesus' birth and the massacre of of the innocents, if the gospels are to be relied on. The first is the visit of the Magi and the second is the flight of Joseph and Mary, with the infant child, to Egypt. There is enough time between 6BCE and Herod's death for all of these events to take place in the only sequence that makes sense.

Assessment of what various groups of Christians believe in this regard is complicated by the fact that many Christians believe in scriptural inerrancy. Some Christians hold that inerrancy implies chronological accuracy. Others don't.

This means that some groups will treat scholarship done from a neutral point of view as a challenge to the faith, while others will view it as a genuine search for truth.


First of all, King Herod died in April 4 BCE, so the Massacre of the Innocents, attributed to Herod's fear of Jesus, must have been some time before this. Matthew also says that when Joseph was warned in a dream, the young family fled from Bethlehem to Egypt, where they stayed, no doubt for several years, until word reached them that Herod was dead. This begins to place the slaughter quite some time before 4 BCE.

If the 'Massacre of the Innocents' ever took place, it would surely have rated among the best-remembered of Herod's misdeeds, yet there were not enough infant deaths to attract the attention of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who makes no mention of such an atrocity although Ian Wilson says, in Jesus, pages 48-49 that Josephus never shrank from cataloguing Herod's crimes. And former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, describes Matthew's nativity story as "a legend."

Given the lack of supporting evidence for the Massacre of the Innocents, the fact that the author of Luke's Gospel was clearly unaware of the event, and other doubts about the historicity of Matthew's nativity account, it is likely that the slaughter never happened.

The present calendar was created in 533 by the Roman abbot Dionysus Exiguus. He knew that it was impossible to say when Jesus was born, but he knew, or thought he knew, when Herod died. So, he devised the new Christian calendar to begin on the year of Herod's death. He based the date of Herod's death on the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus, but was unaware that Augustus only adopted that name four years after his reign began, going by his birth name of Octavius until then. Otherwise, there is no evidence that Jesus was born in 1 BCE-1 CE.

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